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Why do we gaze at our fingernails in the light of the havdallah candle?

Why do we gaze at our fingernails in the light of the havdallah candle?


We look at our nails during havdalah because:

a. In order to make the blessing on the candle, it must be close and bright enough to be able to distinguish different currencies by its light. If we can distinguish between our nails and flesh we know that we're okay.

b. Nails are a siman brocho (sign of blessing) because they are constantly growing. So we start off our week by gazing at a siman brocho.

c. The midrash says that the original fire emanated from Adam's fingernails.

d. Another midrash says that on the first Motzoei Shabbos, when the world became dark for the first time, Adam said "woe is to me, for because of my sin the world has become dark." G‑d then gave Adam the wisdom to rub two flint-stones together, and when fire sprang forth Adam made the blessing (Borey Meoray Ha'aish), and realized that he was completely naked – aside from his nails.

Rabbi Silberberg resides in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Chaya Mushka, and their three children.
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Yehuda Shurpin for March 23, 2017

Re: Flint Stones You are correct that the Midrash does not say that they were flint stones. You can see the Midrash as well as a greater elaboration about the reason by Havdalah candles by reading Why Do We Make a Blessing on Fire on Saturday Night Reply

Simon Cleveland March 22, 2017

why didn't Adam realise he was naked before Shabbat when it was light outside Reply

Anonymous March 21, 2017

Are you sure you translated the midrash correctly? Because rubbing two flint stones won't start a fire. On the other hand rubbing a flint stone with a piece of iron, steel, a knife, a spoon, whatever as long as it contains non-oxidised iron, this will sparkle like fireworks. Minerals containing oxidised iron such as iron ore won't work. But non-oxidised iron didn't exist in nature until the Iron Age! Nevertheless there are other combinations of two minerals that may sparkle too when rubbed. But never two flint stones. Either the midrash on Adam's starting a fire is incorrectly translated, or in Adam's case the two flint stones behaved that way exceptionally. Reply

Robert Lehr Aventura September 8, 2016

Ever since I learned about Judaism, I've explained the act of looking at your closed fist with the nails reflecting the Havdalah candle, as a moment to reflect upon the difference between "light" and "darkness", the "Light of Shabbos", and the Darkness of the coming week, that awaits us as we leave the sanctuary of Shabbos. I've never had to resort to superstitious beliefs and stories that make secularly educated Jews think very negatively about "religious" explanations. Reply

Yosef C H Johannesburg, SA June 27, 2015

a response to Orna Just as the nails never stop growing, wo should our blessings never stop flowing Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn January 21, 2013

a response to Orna a blessing to acknowledge the wondrous works of our nails growing. similar to how asher yatzar prayer acknowledges our wondering internal workings. Reply

Orna Tennenbaum December 1, 2012

why do we gaze at our fingernails to the light of the havdalla candle? Hi, Regarding the second reason you mentioned, if nails are a blessing why is it then that when we clip them we need to flush them down the toilet or burn them and erase any sign of of their existence? Thank you Orna Reply

Robert Connecticut December 1, 2012

Would you explain explanation (d) again--in slow motion--for me? You wrote: "when fire sprang forth Adam made the blessing (Borey Meoray Ha'aish), and realized that he was completely naked – aside from his nails." I didn't quite understand this midrash; Are you saying that there is something about our fingernails that is not nakedness? Maybe I just need that last line restated in different words. I didn't quite understand what that pretty midrash about the first darkness on motzoei-shabbos has to do with fingernails. Reply

Anonymous December 1, 2012

Havdalah Do chabad women also look at their nails during havdalah i was told not Reply

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